Take a moment and breathe. Whatever you do today, find a place to pause, to draw breath, to know that in this moment you're alive and full of the Spirit of the Living God.
Lent's rush can seem a heavy burden to bear for many, whether church staff, members, or even those exploring the life of faith. Of course, this cross that we bear is but a small burden compared to the cross borne by Jesus and the journey Christ walked toward that cross.
Even so, Lent means to create space for resurrection within us. Fasting, prayer, devotional reading, scriptural engagement, meditation, service, acts of kindness, advocacy for justice, and many other Lenten practices help us to find that resurrection space.
But just as the dust needed the breath of God to become a living human being in Genesis 2, so too we must take time to breathe in Lent. We must recognize that we walk the paths of Lent as those already given the gift of the Holy Spirit. We seek new life as those who've already receive the Spirit's downpayment on that new life.
So, as the weight of the season bears down further upon you, take a breath. Breathe in the life of God and breathe out the things that try to choke that life out of you.
Breathe today, for the journey of Lent is not yet over. We need breath for this journey, and the Spirit remains, ready to resuscitate us into the resurrection life we seek.
This week in my sermon I spoke about fasting as "saying no to some things, even good things, so that we learn to say yes to God in new ways." This was born out of a recurring discussion I have with college students, young adults, and people of all ages who've experienced the church as an organization of "no."
Are you a woman and want to be a pastor? Too many have heard "no."
Are you gay and a Christian? Too many have heard, "not possible."
Can I dance? Or drink alcohol moderately? Or like rap music? "No way." "Nope." "Not really."
As the church, we've become known as saying no, when Jesus was a megaphone of affirmation. Can this Samaritan woman experience God's grace? Can the Gentiles be healed? Can the unclean be loved? Jesus' refrain rises each time, "Yeah." "Yes." "YES!"
Now, this doesn't mean that Christians have no ethic by which to live. We surely do. But it began as a positive ethic, based in the active love of God amongst us seen in Jesus Christ. Known for including the outcasts, supporting the poor, healing the sick, welcoming all in need and embracing anyone, regardless of race or sex or ethnicity, as siblings in Christ. As a church, we've got to move actively to this identity. We must become known not for what we deny, but for who we embrace, beginning of course with Jesus and extending to all people.
On a daily basis we're faced with the opportunity of response, whether affirmation or of negativity. When we say "no," perhaps the plumbline we ought to use is whether that "no" opens us up to a "yes." For instance, the "no" of fasting opens up space in our lives to increase our experience of God. Rather than rely upon chocolate for our comfort, we rely upon the Holy Spirit. Rather than rely upon social media for connectedness, we rely upon the Triune God. For a time, we can so "no" to things so long as they open us to new opportunities to engage with God, for positive experiences with our fellow creatures.
There's so much in the church that we affirm. We need to make space for that affirmation, and learn to see how that way of saying "yes" in concert with Jesus might help us to see God differently, hear God's word differently, and see God's work in the world differently. If we make space to say "yes," then we might just see our Creator's affirmation of creation, in others, and even in ourselves.
I spent the early part of this week at the annual Lutheran Campus Ministry staff retreat, which was a blessing for a number of reasons. Chief among them was our ability to have conversation around realities of racism in our world, and how we as campus ministers may become parts of active movements seeking to bring true equality to our nation.
Rev. Leroy Cannon and many members of Christ Mission in Columbia, SC led us deeply into this realm, as did Rozella White, the ELCA Program Directory for Young Adult Ministry. We began watching the movie Selma and spoke of how that moved us as well as where we saw God. From this point, we delved into a Bible study on Galatians 3: "26 You are all God’s children through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 Now if you belong to Christ, then indeed you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise."
What struck me in the midst of our conversations here was the theme of belonging. Our identity as children of God provides our foundational character for us across cultures, vocations, genders, and the like. As we continued to talk about this content, I suddenly realized that we need more than a theoretical framework for our equality. What we need is the active decision that I belong with people who aren't like me precisely because we are all children of God.
Jews and Greeks belong to Christ and belong with one another. People of African descent and people of European descent belong to Christ and belong with one another. Women and men belong to Christ and belong with one another. Those once oppressed by slavery and those once forcing that oppression belong to Christ and belong with one another.
Sometimes, this necessarily means change. There can be no enslavement of God's children due to race, or debt, or any other reason. The same is true for prejudice, for oppression, for all things that demean the image of God we all carry.
At other times, though, this means that I must realize I'm better off in the presence of those who are necessarily different than me, precisely because they carry a different refraction of God's light, a different perspective on God's image. I'll never be black, but I belong with my black sisters and brothers because they are God's children and uniquely carry the vitality of that identity in ways I can't understand without them. My white, male, middle class self belongs with the women who are children of God, LGBTQ+ children of God, the children of God from across time and space who simply aren't like me. And I belong with them.
This isn't about ownership in the way that I own this computer. Instead, it's about identity. My identity as a child of God is wrapped up in my sisters and brothers and God who parents us all. Without any of them, I am less myself, less of who I ought to be for God and for all creation.
So, we need to make choices - I need to make choices - that reflect this belonging. The church must choose to live differently, in ways that not just admit the integrity of those not like us but embrace the identity of those not like us as something we need to become who God calls us to be: God's children, not divided but life situations, but each unique and united by the Holy Spirit, the Living God.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.